For Austin renters, it's time to face the music: adapt to record rent prices or leave the Live Music Capital for good
Is an Austin exodus already upon us?
As the cumbersome weight of the pandemic set in on the country, the city of Austin seemed to become a beacon of opportunity for remote workers and city dwellers across the United States. From 2010-2020—a decade that saw Tesla CEO Elon Musk, countless Californians and dozens of tech startups move en masse into the swelling city—the metro's population grew by nearly a third and cemented itself as the fastest-growing large metro in the nation.
But as quickly as some piled in, it seems others are beginning to trickle out. Leases are coming to an end for many, and some longtime Austinites are considering leaving their homes for the first time in years as apartment complexes respond to rising demand with record-high rent prices and renewal rates.
There are ZERO 2 BR apartments available in Downtown Austin for $1,500/month or less today pic.twitter.com/WS6xak6TG8
— Evil MoPac (@EvilMopacATX) March 30, 2022
Average monthly asking rent prices leaped more than every U.S. city but Portland from January 2021-2022, according to Redfin. The 35% increase represented a national trend—10 of the U.S. cities studied saw rent prices increase by over 30%, while just two cities saw a year-over-year decrease.
When Katera Berent moved into her first South Congress apartment, she was living comfortably for $1,600 a month. But that turned out to be the best it would get before she made the move to Denver.
"By the time I left, I had to live in a place that was literally falling apart and also wildly unsafe for near the same amount after utilities and fees," Berent said. "Rent (in Denver) is crazy too but not nearly as bad as Austin."
She's not alone—on sites like Nextdoor, community groups have been made specifically to discuss the looming fear of rent renewal prices and affordable housing in the metro.
(Rental Community of Austin/Nextdoor)
(Rental Community of Austin/Nextdoor)
It's posing a problem for recent move-ins and longtime Austinites alike. Sherry Ricker, who has lived at one of the AMLI apartment complexes in Austin for 10 years, is one of many who were shocked to see that they can no longer afford the places they've called home for decades.
"My fellow renters and I are being pushed out," Ricker told Austonia. "We've received rent increase notices ranging from $400-$800 per month. My increase is a 20% increase over (the) prior year... I don't understand how they expect people on fixed incomes to absorb increases like that."
And the hot topic of affordability (or lack thereof) has bled into the housing market as well, with median home prices in the metro reaching a record high of nearly $500,000 in February.
Lori Mellinger, who has rented an Austin duplex since October 2020, felt the effects of the booming housing market firsthand when she went home one day and saw a For Sale sign planted in her yard.
With a move-out deadline set for May 31 (the duplex has already been sold), the odds are stacked against her: as a formerly incarcerated person, she's subject to discrimination based on her criminal record on top of mounting rent.
"A criminal record is a huge barrier for a lot of us in a town that says it's all about second chances," Mellinger said. "There are a lot of advocacy jobs for the formerly incarcerated (in Austin) if we know how to maneuver that, which brings us to Austin, the most difficult housing market in the state... what they have for employers, they certainly don't have for renters."
Mellinger doesn't know what she'll do if she can't find a place in time, but she knows she may one day have to leave the metro if prices continue to climb.
Even with record-breaking rent, Austin is still seen as a cheaper haven for tech workers, Californians and others from even more expensive metros.
But Austin's quick growth has already given hints to a more level future. In 2021, arriving U-Hauls made up just 50.4% of one-way rides in Austin, meaning just about the same number of people that trickle in to the Texas capitol are beginning to head out.
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By Jonathan Lee
The Planning Commission was split Tuesday on whether to help save an eclectic lakefront estate from demolition by zoning it historic amid concerns over tax breaks and the likelihood that a previous owner participated in segregation as a business owner.
The property in question, known as the Delisle House, is located at 2002 Scenic Drive in Tarrytown. The main house, with Spanish and Modern influences, was built in 1923 by Raymond Delisle, an optician. A Gothic Revival accessory apartment was built in 1946. The current owner applied to demolish the structures in order to build a new home.'
Historic preservationists, for their part, overwhelmingly support historic zoning, which would preserve the buildings in perpetuity. The Historic Landmark Commission unanimously voted to initiate historic zoning in July, citing architectural significance, landscape features and association to historic figures. City staffers recommend historic zoning, calling both structures one-of-a-kind examples of vernacular architecture.
Tarrytown neighbors have also banded together to stop the demolition. Many have written letters, and a few spoke at the meeting. “How could anyone buy this property with the intent of destroying it?” Ila Falvey said. “I think it’s an architectural treasure.”
Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the property owner, said that the claims made by preservationists are shaky. The buildings are run down, he said, and have had substantial renovations. A structural engineer hired by the owner said any attempt at preservation would involve tearing down and rebuilding – an undertaking Whellan said would likely cost millions.
Whellan also argued that any historical significance derived from the property’s association with Delisle and longtime owner C.H. Slator is dubious. “These men are not noted for any civic, philanthropic or historic impact,” he said.
What’s more, according to Whellan, Slator likely participated in segregation as the owner of the Tavern on North Lamar Boulevard between 1953 and 1960.
A city staffer, however, said she found no evidence to support the claim. “We would never landmark a property where a segregationist lived, or there was a racist person,” Kimberly Collins with the Historic Preservation Office said.
Commissioner Awais Azhar couldn’t support historic zoning in part due to lingering uncertainty about Slator. “Focusing on that factor is not here to disparage an individual or family. It is not about playing the race card. This is an important assertion for us to consider as Planning commissioners,” Azhar said.
Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said that allegations of racism should come as no surprise. “We’re talking about white male property owners in the 1950s, in Austin, on the west side – and of course they were racist,” she said. But she argued that allowing the house to be demolished based on these grounds does nothing to help people of color who have been harmed by racism and segregation.
The question of tax breaks was also controversial. Michael Gaudini, representing the property owner, said that the tax breaks associated with historic zoning would exacerbate inequality by shifting property tax burdens to less affluent communities. City staffers estimate that the property, appraised at $3.5 million, would get either a $8,500 or $16,107 property tax break annually, depending on whether a homestead exemption is applied.
Commissioner Grayson Cox preferred the commission focus not on tax breaks but on whether the structures merit preservation. “To me, nothing in the historic preservation criteria lists, is this person deserving of a tax break or not?”
Azhar, on the other hand, said he plans to propose a code amendment getting rid of city property tax breaks for historic properties.
The commission fell one vote short of recommending historic zoning, with six commissioners in support and three opposed. Azhar and commissioners Claire Hempel and Greg Anderson voted against.
The odds of City Council zoning over an owner’s wishes are slim. Nine out of 11 members must vote in favor, and there have only been a handful of such cases over the past several decades.
What's new in Austin food & drink this week:
- Nau's Enfield Drug closing after losing their lease. Did McGuire Moorman Lambert buy the building, with its vintage soda fountain?
- Nixta Taqueria Chef Edgar Rico named to Time Magazine's Time 100 Next influencer list, after winning a James Beard Award earlier this year.
- Question: From what BBQ joint did pescatarian Harry Styles order food this week?
- Austin Motel is opening the pool and pool bar Wednesday nights in October for Freaky Floats.
- Vincent's on the Lake closing due to "economic conditions and low water levels [at Lake Travis]."
- Cenote has closed its Windsor Park location. The East Cesar Chavez location remains open.
- The Steeping Room on N. Lamar has closed.
- Local startup It's Skinnyscored new financing for its gluten-free pasta business.
- P. Terry's opened a new location in Kyle, at 18940 IH-35.